Michigan GOP gov candidates support capital punishment, oppose budget pork

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Four of the five Republican candidates vying to be Michigan's next governor used a debate Friday to voice support for capital punishment and opposition to hundreds of millions of dollars in special projects embedded in the state's next budget.

The hour-long discussion took place on the set of WKAR-TV's "Off the Record" show Friday morning. A portion of the event will air on public television channels in some areas of Michigan on Friday night.

Republican candidates for governor Garrett Soldano, Ralph Rebandt, Ryan Kelley and Kevin Rinke pose for a photo after a debate on WKAR-TV's  "Off The Record" on Friday, July 15, 2022.

While the state Constitution bans the death penalty, the four Republican candidates for governor who participated in the debate answered "yes" when asked if they supported capital punishment.

"I think my answer speaks for itself," businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township told reporters after the debate.

Likewise, chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan said he's pro-life when it comes to abortion but backs the death penalty for capital offenses.

"What these people have done, people deserve justice," Soldano said. "That's for sure."

In 1847, Michigan became the "first government in the English-speaking world to outlaw capital punishment for murder and lesser crimes," according to the State Bar of Michigan. The ban was added to the state's new Constitution in the 1960s.

Friday's debate, which was the sixth of the primary race, came 18 days before the Aug. 2 election. Republican voters will choose a nominee to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.

The only Republican candidate not to participate in the "Off the Record" event was conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores. A memorial service for her father, Vaughn Makary, who died last month, is taking place Friday afternoon.

The discussion between the four candidates on the set remained cordial. However, they slammed $1 billion in pork-barrel spending that was included in the state's new $76 billion budget.

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the financial plan on July 1 with $100 million in funding for an innovation center in Detroit, $2 million for the Traverse City Curling Club and $2 million for Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, among many other projects.

The GOP candidates indicated they would strip at least some of the earmarks from the budget if they were in office before signing it. Real estate broker Ryan Kelley of Allendale said the budget proposal was an example of "wasteful spending."

"Just because you hear the word bipartisanship doesn’t mean that it’s a deal that is good for the people," Kelley said.

Michigan officeholders have contended the projects were necessary to include in order to get the budget passed.

"This budget as you identified was a negotiation," Whitmer told reporters Thursday. "I introduced a budget that looked a bit different. The Legislature had different thoughts on what it should look like. Ultimately, it’s our job to come to the table and hash out our differences and find out where we could find common ground and move forward. This budget reflects that.”

However, Republican candidate Ralph Rebandt, a pastor from Farmington Hills, said he would veto the $1 billion in spending on projects. He would have "anti-appropriation" advisers to help him trim the budget in the future, he said.

"I am interested in hearing from the citizens," Rebandt said. "I am not interested in making deals."

Soldano and Rinke said they were more interested in giving the state's surplus back to taxpayers instead of spending it on projects. Rinke, who has advocated for doing away with the state's 4.25% individual income tax, labeled the spending "disrespectful to the people of Michigan."

"It’s the people’s money," Rinke said. "And if a community, for instance, wants to have a special project come in, then that community should fund it."

Rinke's individual income tax plan would slash about $12 billion from the state's coffers.

Rinke has not identified which parts of state government he would propose eliminating in order to pay for the tax cut. He has said it would be up to the Legislature to decide in the appropriations process.

The four candidates took differing views on the state's decision to provide $666 million to lure a General Motors election vehicle project that's expected to create between 3,200 and 4,000 jobs.

Whitmer and the leaders of the Legislature have touted the development as historic.

Rinke said the Democratic governor had "overpaid" because she "needed a win." Kelley and Rebandt voiced opposition to "corporate welfare." But Soldano said he would have supported the project.

"We have to do everything we can right now to get jobs back in the state," Soldano said.

He added that the state's overall culture needs to change to attract businesses.